The timing of text messages a woman allegedly sent while driving are at the crux of the court case surrounding the crash that killed Bendigo cyclist Jason Lowndes.
Billie Rodda, 21, appeared in Bendigo Magistrates’ Court on Friday, where her defence counsel Jarrod Behan unsuccessfully applied to have her matter dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court instead of a higher court.
She is charged with dangerous driving causing death, careless driving and using a mobile phone while driving in relation to the fatal collision on December 22 last year.
In a summary read to the court, Crown prosecutor Robyn Harper said Ms Rodda sent messages to her boyfriend while driving home from work on the morning of the crash.
Ms Harper said the last message before the collision was written at 10.14am, but did not send because of poor reception.
At 10.15am, the prosecutor said Ms Rodda’s car collided with Mr Lowndes’ bicycle while travelling in the same direction on a bend on Sedgwick Road.
Ms Harper said Ms Rodda immediately stopped the car and called 000. Passers-by stopped to help, including two off-duty nurses who performed CPR until paramedics arrived.
Mr Lowndes was airlifted to Melbourne, but died in theatre early that afternoon.
Ms Harper told the court phone data showed there were 11 messages sent from Ms Rodda’s phone and seven received between 9.44am and the time of the collision, while cellular data showed consistent activity between 9.37am and 10.17am.
In an interview in January, Ms Rodda told detectives she had messaged her boyfriend four to five times while driving home.
She told them she glanced down at her speedometer and when she looked back up she saw Mr Lowndes in front of her car, but there was no time to do anything.
Defence counsel Mr Behan contested the prosecution’s assertion that Ms Rodda used her mobile phone just one minute before her car crashed into Mr Lowndes, because of the poor phone signal in the area.
He submitted his client’s alleged offending was at the lower end of the range of dangerous driving causing death, there were no aggravating factors beyond the alleged use of a mobile phone, she had no traffic or criminal record and she was young with “great prospects of rehabilitation”.
He also said she had made a “tragic decision” for which she remained “extremely sorry and grief-stricken”, and had fully cooperated with investigators.
Ms Rodda said she did not leave work until about 9.50am, Mr Behan told the court, so a number of messages were sent before she began driving.
If the matter were heard in the Magistrates’ Court, a sentence on the charge of dangerous driving causing death would have been limited to a maximum of two years’ imprisonment.
Ms Harper opposed the application to have the matter determined in the Magistrates’ Court on the grounds the court did not have adequate sentencing scope, arguing this upper limit of sentencing was insufficient.
She submitted the matter should be determined by a jury because the phone and cellular data was in contention.
There was no indication as to Ms Rodda’s plea, she said.
Ms Harper also said the use of the mobile phone was an aggravating factor to the extent it warranted hearing by a higher court.
Magistrate Michael King said the matter was not overly complex and the sentencing options available were within the range of the Magistrates’ Court.
Dr King said it came down to assessing the degree of Ms Rodda’s culpability.
There was a wide community interest in the effects of using a mobile phone while driving, he said, and it would require careful assessment of witnesses and details.
Dr King said it was for this reason that the matter needed to go before a higher court.
It will now proceed to a two-day committal hearing next February.
A prosecution application to vary Ms Rodda’s bail conditions to prohibit her from driving was also rejected by Dr King.
Ms Rodda was supported in court by several people, including her parents.
Mr Lowndes’ parents, family members and friends were also present.
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